In June 1948, when I reached the age of 16, I enlisted in the Iowa National Guard. When I turned 17, I signed on with the United States Army. I took my basic training at Ft Riley, Kansas. In basic, some liked it, some hated it. I didn’t like KP, GI parties or inspections, but I figured the rest was just great. After basic I was sent to Leadership School.
That was rigorous duty but I also had the opportunity to become acquainted with the .50 caliber machine gun, my favorite weapon. After graduation, I stayed on, trained a lot, watched training films, and did demonstrations for the OCS classes some night exercises.
A lot of my comrades were veterans of Far East duty, and on listening to their bragging, I thought that this would be a good place to go. So, in early June 1950, I took a short discharge and reenlisted for six-years with my first assignment to the Far East Command. On 25 June, while home on reenlistment leave, the Korean War started - there was no doubt in my mind where I was going.
Arriving in Ft Lewis, Washington, I was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, 9th Infantry Regiment, and in Hq Company 1st Battalion. We organized quickly, boarded the US Sultan, and were on our way to Korea. On July 31, arrived in Pusan, Korea, off loaded, collected our equipment, and within hours were off to that war I wanted so long ago.
The trip north was uneventful and we stopped the first night on one of those hills I would learn to hate. We did not as yet have any ammunition for our weapons, so our supply sergeant came around and announced that he was going to issue our daily rations, and handed each of us 6 rounds. I pointed out that I had a carbine with a clip that held 15 or 30 rounds, he changed his mind and increased our ration.
The next day we arrived at a staging point where I was assigned to ride shot gun on a truck going to the ammo depot which turned out to be a train station. We loaded the trucks with as much ammo as possible and headed back. One truck got a flat tire and did not have a spare. The other trucks returned and three of us stayed with the disabled truck. The next day a truck with a spare returned and coming back to the point we found that our battalion had gone into action, so we immediately moved up to their position. As night came on, a detail was formed to take the ammo up to the front lines. It was dark and about halfway there we were ambushed by the North Koreans. We beat a hasty retreat back to a creek and took up defensive positions. We were ordered back to the CP and the next morning we delivered ammo, food and water to the front line troops. On our return trip we took the dead and wounded off the hill. On one of these trips, bullets began to whizz and zinggg by my head. I yelled out to our troops “Will you guys stop shooting!” A voice came down saying, “It ain’t us”.
During the first week, we were sitting on a bank at the forward CP eating our cold C rations when artillery rounds began to hit near by. I can remember trying to crawl under my helmet, and then the root base of a tree. On other days we would receive mortar rounds and occasional small arms fire. At the beginning, we all would scatter and seek cover, but after a few weeks, I became callused to it all and stayed where I was and continued to eat. The Platoon Leader hollered for me to get down which I did and was sent to the CP. The CP was in a school house and there was little for us to do. The next day we got shelled. The first round hit a 2 1/2 truck on its hood and blew the whole front end off of it. Everyone ran into the hills without their weapons. I picked up as many as I could carry and gave them back their weapons.
Another day one of the guys of the A&P platoon and I were sitting on the creek bank cleaning our weapons. When we finished he put a clip in, pulled the bolt back, loaded it, and put the muzzle to his boot, and then pulled the trigger. He seemed astounded when it went off. He screamed and hollered bringing the medics over to patch him up. They took him away and he never came back. I still believe to this day that it was not intentional.
The dead and wounded came off those hills daily. The wounded were put in ambulances and the dead on a jeep with a 4 stretcher rack. I will always remember when our Company commander, a Captain, and considered by the troops as a nice guy, was ordered to take command of a front line company. I was with the group when he bid us goodby several days later I went up the hill and brought the Captain’s body back. He had been in his foxhole when he received a direct hit from a mortar round. You could not recognize it was the same person. His being killed was a sad day for all of us.
One afternoon I was at the forward CP aid station when a wounded soldier came down off the hill carrying a M-1. As he walked by, I offered to trade guns. Grabbing his rifle by the barrel he threw it in my direction. I asked if he wanted my carbine and he said no. I went to the supply truck, gave them my carbine and received 2 bandoleers of M-1 ammunition. I carried that rifle for the rest of my tour.
It wasn’t long before we were told that the North Koreans were making a big push and we set up guard posts around the perimeter. Our platoon Sergeant and the 1st Sergeant went out to scout a way to the rear should it be needed. When they returned, one of the guards in that sector shouted “Halt, Halt, Halt” and opened fire, killing the 1st Sergeant. When he discovered what he had done, he broke down and was sent to the Aid Station where he was evacuated to Japan.
I was on guard detail, scanning the rice paddies for any movement, when a voice behind me asked, “What are you doing here don’t you know that all the others have bugged out? Before I could answer he took off with the others. I looked around, and seeing no one else, I took the road down the hill to the rear at a brisk pace. The path I followed was about 4 feet above and between two paddies. I carried my rifle at sling arms and my bayonet was in the stacking swivel. A machine gun opened up on me, and I jumped into a rice paddy, away from the fire. When I jumped, my rifle went up in the air and as I landed below, my bayonet jabbed into my shoulder blade. I pulled it out and threw it as far as I could. By this time I was getting a little perturbed. So far I had been left behind, shot at, and now had stabbed myself with my own bayonet. I took my rifle and fired 8 rounds in the direction of the machine gun, reloaded and fired another two clips.
I got up back on the road and soon caught up with the rear of a convoy of trucks that were pulling out. Lo-and-behold, there was my platoon leader who had left me behind, running with a 45 pistol in each hand. I passed by him and jumped into a trailer that was being pulled by a jeep, thinking that if we got into another fire fight, those 45 pistols would have been as worthless as I thought he was.
We eventually got organized and set up guard posts. The next morning, we set out on foot to what was the front line where we took up positions on a hard rocky hill. We were told to dig foxholes, and as we did not have entrenching tools, we tried to dig with our steel helmets. After two or three whacks with them, we didn’t scar the surface, so we decided to wait until we had proper tools. I sure wished that I had the bayonet I threw away earlier. After an hour or so, those who had an entrenching tool had dug a hole that could barely accommodate a canteen cup. We decided to assume the sitting position to defend ourselves. To the left of our position, there was another hill being manned by some of our Battalion’s troops. We could see the North Koreans attack that position, but could not see our own troops but heard their gun fire and machine guns firing from the top of the hill. It must have been overrun, for we were quickly ordered off our hill and retreated to the rear.
Later that day, the front must have stabilized, and three of us were issued a .50 caliber machine gun and sent to the top of the hill. As I had been trained for that weapon in Leadership School, we had no problems with setting it up and adjusting the head space. As things were quiet, we became more relaxed when suddenly, an airplane dived down on us. It looked like a Marine Corsair and we waived it off. The plane pulled to the left and flew by at hilltop level and we could see the pilot wave at us. Our waving froze in mid-stride when we noticed the large red star on the fuselage. He pulled up, swung over to the right and dove down on a quad 50 half-track. The AAA boys filled the air with tracers and we thought that they were hitting the Yak, but it didn’t bring it down. The Yak, continuing to fire, pulled up and headed north. A very short time later an F-80 shot across the hill and I would guess that he caught up with that Yak in seconds.
In a short while, we were back to delivering supplies to the line troops, doing guard duty and manning roadblocks at night. One night, while on roadblock duty, I heard the sound of a large group of men marching at quick time. As they came by, they identified themselves as Baker company, 5th Marines. The next morning we were ordered to push forward to the Naktong river. During that push we were assigned front line positions. We did some shooting, were shot at, and even took prisoners, we watched the Marine Corsairs dive and strafe the enemy when one of them pulled up and smoke was pouring out of the engine area. As it peaked, the pilot bailed out and landed in between the friendly and enemy positions.
His plane spiraled and crashed with a loud explosion. The other planes continued their runs and covered his position until a helicopter came in low and picked him up.
When the front lines became secured, a couple of things, which I did not personally observe, happened that got my attention. As told to me by witnesses, one of our .30 caliber machine gun crews, from HQ Co., were positioned on the front lines for support and was attacked by the enemy. A North Korean soldier threw a grenade which was caught by one of the men who immediately threw it back which the Korean caught and threw back again which was quickly thrown back and when the Korean caught it, it exploded. I was acquainted with the B Co. crew member who did the throwing and remember him to be of Italian descent, in his thirties, balding, wore thick glasses, and built like a top (narrow shoulders and wide hips). He was wounded several times, and always came back to the same company. All this may seem impossible to you, but you must know that the North Korean grenades have a much longer fuse than the American grenades. The other incident to another man from that machine gun crew. One of our men was wounded down close to the Naktong river. Our man went down and grabbed him by the collar and was pulling him to safety when he was shot through the arm he was pulling with. He shifted hands and continued to pull when he was shot again. He fell to the ground and continued to pull the man back to safety. He was taken back to the CP for evacuation where I gave him his mail I had been holding. They then took him to the hospital, patched him up and sent him stateside. I volunteered to take his place on the machine gun crew but instead I was transferred to the l&R (Intelligence and Reconnaissance) section as jeep driver.
We woke up early that morning and as I looked around I could see that there wasn't many of us left. After a quick breakfast, we boarded a truck and headed out. We crossed the Chongchon river at a ford that was a little over 2 feet deep then drove north and established another OP just south of the front lines. We constructed an Outpost and sent out a recon patrol, and settled in to an uneventful day and night. The next day was routine until it got dark when were rousted out as the Chinese were attacking our OP and about to overrun us. I ran up a small hill behind the OP and took a position beside the l&R Platoon M/Sgt who was lying there. I asked him ''Where are they?'' and he replied ''There's one now as he aimed his carbine to fire. Before he could fire, a grenade exploded on the other side of him, killing him and wounding a man who was next to him.
At this point, I and everyone else evacuated that hill and ran south to the creek bed. I was bringing up the rear and about to pass by the building where our OP was located when suddenly a white phosphorous mortar round exploded directly in front of the OP spewing and filling the air with smoking white phosphorous embers. I dove into the OP to get out of the way of the burning stuff and then headed towards the creek. As I got there, I noted that every man was in the creek bed where they had taken up a position facing north where they expected an enemy attack. A High explosive mortar round exploded behind us and a sliver of metal tore into my right shoulder, burning like the dickens. As it didn't bleed, I just ignored it. About that time, one of the A&P Sergeants came up to me with a silly grin on his face and said, "You'll never guess what just happened". He and a squad of men had gone down towards the river and as they rounded the bank, they bumped right into a squad of Chinese - without either side firing a shot, both turned tail and ran.
A little later we got orders to fall back onto the road and proceed to the rear OP on the other side of the river. We walked back towards to the ford without interference. As there were no vehicles, we had to wade across. The freezing water came almost to my waist and we were all certain we would end up with frozen feet, or worse. Three of the men decided not wade across but, instead went along the river bank to a partial bridge. I could see them crawl out on the timbers, slip, dangle for a few seconds, and fall into deeper icy water. I did not see any of them come out. Once out of the river, the water on our clothes and shoes turned to ice, which kept our body heat in and my feet didn't feel cold anymore. We walked south to the rear OP where we met a 1st Lt. and ushered into a warm, dry tent where we stayed the night, drying out. Looking around, HQ Company was getting smaller all the time. Years later, while reading the 2nd Division history, I discovered we were supposed to be in Division reserve, but didn't know it.
The next day, we boarded vehicles and proceeded a few miles south where the convoy pulled into an area with some rundown buildings, where we settled in and waited for orders. Food and supplies were scarce and everyone was hungry. Later that afternoon we did get a meal, which was really appreciated by all, we didn't know that was the last meal we would get for some time. That afternoon, the l&R section's Captain, a Corporal and the Interpreter drove up in a jeep and told me to hop in. I ran to the shack to get my meager belongs and when I came back, found that they had gone. I didn't like the idea that I was being left behind. I loaded into the last vehicle heading south, down an old narrow road. We didn't get very far before the truck slid off the road, almost turned over and then got stuck. We tried but failed to get it unstuck, so we left it. We walked for some time on the road until it got dark, then climbed up the highest hill and found that except for us, there was no activity in sight. Here we were in North Korea, on the top of a snow crested hill, all by ourselves. After dark, a 1st Lt. called us together and told us to pair up with a buddy and walk out as best we could and it was "every man for himself".
Saying that, he and a sergeant, along with the others, paired up with a friend and left. As the only l&R soldier there, (my best buddy San Antone had been killed the first night) I was alone. I wasn't frightened and had just decided to go to the top of the hill and observe the area and if all was quite, maybe take a nap. Before I could carry this out, a man I had never seen before came up from my left rear and asked me if I wanted to walk out of here with him. I readily agreed and off we went.
As the others who left had gone off to the right, I was convinced that was the wrong way to safety. So, we went down the hill to the stream. When we got there, we noticed that it was flowing southward so we decided to follow it. The terrain wasn't too bad and we made good time. I don't recall talking to my new friend as we were preoccupied with the mission of getting back to friendly lines, where ever they were. Later, we came upon the sound of machine gun fire. It seemed to be coming from some distance off and from both sides of the stream. The guns sounded like both heavy and smaller caliber guns and we didn't know who was who.
The banks of the stream were about head high, so we crouched down and went forward. A few miles further, we crossed the stream, getting wet again, going east. Soon we came onto a busy road with American traffic on it. Going with the traffic flow, we soon came upon a Division Artillery CP. We didn't know which division, but we really didn't care. We found the mess tent was open and feeding that hour. We asked the Mess Sgt. if we could have something. He told us to wait until all his men were fed and any food left we could eat. By the time he was ready, there were others who wanted to be fed. Lucky enough, there was sufficient for all. A fire was going in an open field and we sat around it for warmth, and eventually fell asleep. Early in the morning, some Turkish soldiers came, rolled me away from the fire, and sat down. I got up, went back, they smiled and made room for me. My new friend was nowhere to be found and I never saw him again.
At dawn, I got back onto the road. My feet were still wet as I hadn't taken my "snow packs" off to dry them. I thought that it just wasn't the time or place to do that. Soon after I started walking south, I met some guys from the A&P Platoon, so I joined them for the walk south. I never did ask them how they got out. As we proceeded south, my feet began to blister and swell. The rubberband on my snow-packs had abraded my left foot and eventually had wore a hole clear down to the bone just above the big toe. Walking wasn't too bad. My feet were like raw hamburger and the constant walking had made them feel like mush. Whenever we would stop, my feet would swell inside my boots. Walking again was more difficult.
We came to a juncture in the road and came upon an MP, all decked out as only MPs do, shiny brass whistle and all. He asked us for our outfit, and then directed us to the road to our left. A little further, we came upon an abandoned CP with tires, trash, etc. strewed about. We foraged for food, finding nothing but instant coffee packets, We started a fire, melted some snow and had hot coffee -- probably the best cup of coffee I ever had. We again proceeded down the road - I don't know for how long, it could have been days, as I lost track of days and time. As luck would have it, a 2nd Division truck came by, picked us up and took us to a place called Ascom City, outside of Seoul where our organization regrouped. In July 50, we had 151 men present and accounted for, in January 51 there were 41 left.
We were billeted in a Korean schoolhouse, issued sleeping bags, etc. My feet were a real mess, so I hobbled to the Battalion Aid Station where a Medic told me to come back at 2PM for evacuation. I really didn't want to go, so I asked the Platoon Sgt. (a friend) if I could stay and treat my feet myself. He said OK. The bottoms of my feet were raw and there was a hole in my left foot. The medics gave me some Epsom Salts, medication and fresh bandages. I traded my snowpacks for a pair of leather combat boots. all leather. My feet healed amazingly fast, and I kept the wound clean and bandaged. I now have a scar on my left foot and every time I see it, I am reminded of how I got it.
I later met the interpreter who had been in the jeep with the Captain and corporal. He was quite surprised to find out that I was still alive. He told me that they had driven into a Chinese ambush where the others in the jeep had been killed as he bailed out running into the hills and got away. This meant that of my I&R Section, I and the interpreter were the only personnel that were still alive. And you know, that Lt. that told us "every man for himself" came around our billets and shook my hand. I thought that was nice of him.
Note: James D Moran served with the 9th Inf Regt/Hq 1 Bn.